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I always have been having problems how to understand which preposition to use. Of course there are examples, in which the preposition is obvious. For me the problem occurs when "Do your best in/on/at x." means "Deal with x as effectively as you can.". Which grammar rules or methods should I use for this case?

Examples of phrases I have this problem with include the following:

  • I'll do my best on the TOEFL preparation so I'll get a higher score on the exam.
  • I'll do my best on the test tomorrow.
  • Do your best in achieving this goal.
  • Do your best in the planning of our weekend.
  • Do your best in filling out the form.

The following phrases were changed according to suggestions by Robusto, so now they don't have this problem:

  • I see these questions for the first time so I haven't prepared for them. Should I just do my best to guess the right answers?
  • You will have only 15 seconds to prepare so do your best to use them effectively.

Should I ever write or say "I will do my best at x", when I use it in the meaning "I will cope/deal with x (as good as I will be able to)"?

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Some of your examples have errors that might distract from your actual question. "I'll do my best on the TOEFL preparation so I'll get a higher score on the exam." "I see these questions for the first time, so I haven't prepared for them." "You will have only 15 seconds to prepare so do your best in the use of them." Note that the latter two are still awkward, but I can't come up with corrections that don't change the do your best [preposition] part. –  Marthaª Nov 27 '10 at 17:27
    
Thank you, Martha. I've applied the fixes suggested by you. –  fiktor Nov 27 '10 at 19:03
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

That's a "trick" question because it is not about what follows "best", but simply about "should you use 'in' or 'on'?".

The double-trick is that in some case, you could (with a slight variation of context) use 'for'!

I'll do my best for the TOEFL preparation so I'll get higher score on the exam.

Anyway, if we stick to the initial choice 'in' or 'on', the final trick is in some case, both could be used, like the two first examples ("on" maybe being more commonly used in the US)

I find (personal rule)

  • "in" standing for "during" or "within" (or other similar meanings)
  • "on" standing for "about" or "referenced by" (or other similar meanings)

Meaning I don't find your examples "wrong".

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Plenty of prepositions can follow "do your best":

Do your best on the test.
Do your best in all your endeavors.
Do your best with the tools you have.
Do your best for the team.

And so on.

Of the examples you give, only these sound awkward to my ear:

Should I just do my best in guessing the right answers?

You will have only 15 seconds to prepare so do your best in using of them.

I would prefer to in those cases:

Should I just do my best to guess the right answers?

You will have only 15 seconds to prepare, so
do your best to use them effectively.

In that last I removed the "of" and added "effectively," which seems clearer and stronger.

EDIT: I removed some examples that wandered away from Preposition Land. Thanks to Ito and fiktor for pointing out my brain cramp.

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+1 for insisting on the various possibilities after "do your best". And also for your profile description box, which I find funnier than the one in your other SO/SE accounts ;) Great use of jokebuddha: jokebuddha.com/Patience or jokebuddha.com/Nostalgia: I like "Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson. You find the present tense and the past perfect". –  VonC Nov 27 '10 at 16:41
    
@VonC: Thank you, and I'm glad you like the jokes in my description. Please note that I did not use jokebuddha, believe it or not, but came up with both on my own a long time ago. Apparently I was not the only one. But jokebuddha looks like a fun site, so thanks for that. –  Robusto Nov 27 '10 at 17:18
    
@Robusto: I was just pulling your leg with the jokebuddha reference ;) –  VonC Nov 27 '10 at 17:44
    
@Robusto: Yes, I understand that many different prepositions can in principle follow "do your best". But I do have a problems with them only in the case, described above: i.e. when what I want to write using "Do your best <preposition> x." means "Deal with x as effectively as you can", like in the first 2 of your examples. –  fiktor Nov 27 '10 at 19:12
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None of “while,” “when” and “wherever” is a preposition. I believe that the “to” in a to-infinitive is not considered as a preposition, either. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 27 '10 at 19:52
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protected by RegDwigнt Apr 6 '12 at 20:54

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